Cleveland Browns 2016 season position review: Running Back

Cleveland Browns Isaiah Crowell Baltimore Ravens
Cleveland Browns

With the inconsistency and poor play at the quarterback spot, the Browns running backs were important to the offense. Overall the unit played well, but the use of this group was questionable. The only major contributors at the running back position were Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. The duo contributed both in the running game and passing game.

Here we will take a look at the running back position in 2016 and what needs to happen to the position going into 2017.

2016 Browns Position Reviews: Quarterback

Running backs on the roster: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson Jr., Darius Jackson, Rajion Neal, Glenn Winston and George Atkinson III

Notable Stats

Isaiah Crowell: Rushed 198 times for 952 yards and seven touchdowns, while also catching 40 passes for 319 yards.

Duke Johnson: Rushed 73 times for 358 yards and a touchdown, while also catching 53 passes for 514 yards.

George Atkinson III: Rushed seven times for 34 yards and a touchdown, while also returning eight kickoffs for 137 total yards.


The Browns running back position was mostly comprised of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. Crowell received the majority of the carries this season and with these carries, he had his best season as a Cleveland Brown. His fit in the Browns gap scheme blocking really catapulted him into having a good season. He showed improved vision and decisiveness this season. The running back always had the athletic ability, but his vision was the thing holding him back. With the gap scheme blocking he had a set track to follow, helping him hone his vision. He was able to showcase his elusiveness and tackle-breaking ability. This season showed that Crowell could be the feature back for the Browns going forward, but the Browns must re-sign him to a long-term contract this offseason.

Duke Johnson may not be a feature running back, but he is versatile weapon who can really force a defense into tough situations. Johnson was used all over the field for the Browns. The Browns played him at running back and receiver. He is an elusive back that can make defenders miss, but also he can extend plays with tough finishes through contact. This makes him a valuable player with the ball in his hands, so the more instances the offense can get him the ball, the more chances he can make a big play. He is a player who the Browns can use to force mismatches against the opposing defense. His future with the Browns will continue to be as a versatile weapon.

The rest of the running backs group — Darius Jackson, Rajion Neal, Glenn Winston and George Atkinson III — did not have any sort of consistent time on the field. George Atkinson III probably has the best chance of making the squad next season because he provides kick return ability.

The Browns running back position is one of the team’s best position groups. It is a position that might be set for year’s to come. The group has versatile talent to mix and match based on the situation. Both Johnson and Crowell are a talented, so the team does not need to address this position beyond them much. The biggest issue is the unit’s usage. The Browns need to rush the ball more and trust these talented backs. The Browns ranked last in rushing attempts this season, handing the ball off only 350 times this year. Hue Jackson must use the running game more.



Both players have the ability to elude defenders, while also running through tacklers for more yards. Their running styles make it hard for defenders to tackle them because they could use power or elusiveness to get past the tackler. Also, both players have the ability to catch out of the backfield. Johnson is a better receiver, but Crowell improved quite a bit this season catching the ball and being a target in the passing game. Johnson can line up at receiver and be a potent pass catcher. Versatility makes this unit one of the better positions on the entire team.


Consistent Usage

The biggest weakness for the Browns running backs group doesn’t have anything to do with them as players. It deals with their usage in the running game. The Browns and Hue Jackson must rely on their running game a lot more in 2017. Ranking last in the NFL in rushing attempts with who the Browns had at quarterback was a huge mistake by Jackson. The rushing attack averaged the second most yards per carry in the NFL this past season with 4.9 yards per carry. Giving this group just 350 carries is far too little.

To Do List

  1. Re-sign Isaiah Crowell to a long-term contract

Isaiah Crowell is a restricted free agent this offseason. The Browns need to re-sign Crowell and lock him up long-term. He showed this season that he has the talent to be the team’s feature back. He forms a great pair with Duke Johnson. Re-signing Crowell will make this unit continue with consistency, which in turns could improve their overall performance.

  1. Rely on the rushing attack

With the struggle at the quarterback position, the Browns should rank near the top of the league in rushing attempts. But, the team actually ranked last in attempts, even though the group had the second most yards per carry average. Crowell and Johnson are talented duo who need the ball more in rushing situations.

  1. Find a reliable third running back

Behind the duo of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, the Browns do not exactly have a reliable backup. George Atkinson III had the third most carries at the position, but he only had seven carries. If Crowell and Johnson go down, the Browns do not have a real good option to fill in for one of them. This offseason, the Browns should look to add a third running back to the unit. With the strong class of running backs in the upcoming draft, the Browns might be best served to find this back in the 2017 NFL Draft.

  • Saggy

    “Rely on the rushing attack”

    haha. yeah, right. Looking forward to seeing the Crow improve again next season.

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  • scripty

    /waits for somebody to tell me how Duke Johnson is the real deal and is going to break out this year

  • tigersbrowns2

    good observation about under-using the run … especially with our O-line struggling in pass protection. i thought Erving & Pasztor actually did a decent job in run blocking.

    watch how the Patriots use D.Lewis & J.White and how the Falcons use Freeman & Coleman in the passing game , getting favorable match-ups with LB’s or S’s … the Browns should be using Duke in this same fashion. i also don’t remember seeing too many screen passes to slow down the opposing pass rush.

    i know i will get run out of town , but should you nab a guy like Fournette or Cook if you get the chance ? i think Zeke Elliott would’ve had a better year than Crowell if Cleveland had taken him. but , i do realize we probably have more pressing needs at this time.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi SCRIPTY … well , if they don’t re-sign Crowell , he may have to be the guy … i think Duke may have an unfair label on him as a “change-of-pace” back , or a “3rd down” back … the man is MIami’s all-time leading rusher & there are some great names on that list … i think he can handle more of a load than most think.

  • tigersbrowns2

    McCaffrey in the 2nd round ??

  • scripty

    The facts are he’s had 2 training camps to beat out Crowell and hasn’t, in the easiest position for a rookie to beat out veteran). Most of the Miami greats had shorter seasons and left after 3 years.

    He’s a role player in the NFL but not an impact starter. He could probably start for an awful team.

  • tigersbrowns2

    you’re probably right … i just thought they could’ve utilized him a little more in the passing game.

  • tigersbrowns2

    so , i guess the question is : did Crowell show enough to get a nice new contract ? i think he did … i know what RGB’s going to say.

  • scripty

    The underneath passing game isn’t available until we have both – downfield threats and a QB that can consistently hit these threats. If that day happens, his value as an underneath route runner and option outta the backfield will increase.

  • Jaker

    I was bummed we never got to see Darius Jackson play. He has a really nice skill set that would’ve been nice to see as a 3rd RB. Especially since I’d like to avoid the position in FA/Draft. Would be great to just focus on OLine/Defense/QB in that area.

    I am interested in what Crowell would be looking for in a new contract. I would really like to keep him because he is a big piece of one of our only strengths, and keeping him may “complete” the position going into next year. I think he should be easy to sign considering the lack of demand at the position and the fact that he hasn’t produced the big numbers that would get such a contract (even though I think if we improve our Line, he could cross 1200 next season)…

    Any idea what he’d be going for? 4 yrs, $20M, $12M guaranteed?

  • scripty

    They can only use guys underneath b/c they have a QB that can consistently make teams pay over the top.

  • scripty

    I would keep Crowell and keep looking for an alternative as well.

    RT is where teams run more and we didnt even have one this year. Again, Crowell is really a bridge to the future.

  • Jaker

    While I would love a guy like Fournette or Cook at 12, I just think we have way too many needs on Defense to take one of them, especially considering how strong this draft is on that side of the ball. But for arguments sake, lets play out a scenario… Browns take Myles Garrett at 1. In picks 2-11, we see a combination of the 3 QBs (Watson, Trubisky, Kizer), S Malik Hooker, WR Mike Williams, DL Jon Allen, S Jamal Adams, DL Derek Barnett and 2 CBs Quincy Wilson & Marshaun Lattimore… Then I’d understand picking Fournette, even though I’d prefer CB there.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi JAKER … i’m all about fixing the defense as well , as this should make us more competitive & keep us in games. in free-agency , i see a host of really good defensive players , while not so much on the offensive side.

    CB Tabor could be there at #12 … and i know some would like to see OT Cam Robinson be our guy at #12 as well … and then there’s the old dreaded QB thing rearin’ it’s ugly head again.

  • Jaker

    Agreed. When it comes to 12, ideally we grab either Jamal Adams or Malik Hooker to pair with Myles Garrett at 1. I think Cam Robinson would be a nice fallback option, and even though it doesn’t make for the best value strategy, I am always gunna rally around a potential franchise QB. While I’d sprint to Philly for day 2 (I live in Jersey so I’m serious) if Watson is available, I wouldn’t complain if they take him at 12, even though its against everything I am rooting for (taking BPA in round 1)

  • tigersbrowns2

    much may depend on what we do or don’t accomplish in free-agency …

  • Jaker

    correct. there are a few good linemen out there that we should look into first and foremost. C J.C. Tretter(25) in Green Bay likely won’t be resigned, same goes for G Ronald Leary(27) in Dallas. Leary was replaced by Lael Collins but would still be a HUGE upgrade at Guard for us. It’s pretty clear he won’t be back. Tretter was the starter but got hurt. His replacement, Corey Linsley from tOSU (& my father’s hometown of YTown) stepped in and has performed really well. Add in the fact that they need to sign TJ Lang AND Nick Perry this offseason, they just do not have the luxury of bringing Tretter back.

    I think after making sure we get Collins and Pryor back, these two should be our primary targets.